Peach vatrushka

An eastern European pastry with a dense fudgy filling from Karaway Bakery

As those who have been lending more than half an eye to the scribblings of ourselves and other food magazines will doubtless have realised, preserves are having a moment. Once regarded the sole preserve of old ladies and WI meetings, the joys of stewing, fermenting, pickling and canning have been seized upon by chefs and cookery writers alike, creating a surge in demand for all things preserved.

One such delight is vatrushka from the Russian and Eastern European-inspired Karaway Bakery. Though not itself a preserved product, the combination of soft brioche, quark and bright tinned peaches hinges on two quite different but equally delectable methods of food preservation.

The quark which forms the dense, fudgy interior of the brioche crown comes from fermented milk which has been warmed until curdled, then strained to create cheese. The peaches, of course, are the taste of summer, immersed in age-defying sugar water and canned.

The fruity, fluorescent pinnacle
They are ‘the cherry’, as it were: the fruity, fluorescent pinnacle atop this deep pile of cream cheese and duvet-like dough. “It adds some bite,” says Sarah. “Vatrushka can be quite rich, but the peaches add some edge to it all.”

Texturally they are a vital component. Contextually, they evoke the elemental role preservation has played throughout humanity, and in Eastern Europe in particular. “They are good at preserving their natural resources,” says Sarah. “They have good summer produce, and they have long harsh winters.”

Contrary to what some might expect, summers in the southern eastern European countries are hot and fecund. Milk goes off quickly: fermenting it stymies bad bacteria, as does cheese making. Luscious peaches which bloom too abundantly to be devoured on the spot cry out to be canned.

A peasant’s pastry
Vatrushka unites them. It is a peasant’s pastry. Its ingredients are humble—but in its celebration of Eastern Europe and a type of cooking on which so much of humanity has and still does depend on for survival, vatrushka is glorious. It might not have graced the tsar’s table, but this Friday it should certainly grace yours.